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Full text of "Men Of Mathematics"

THE LAST UNIYEKSALIST
matical creation. How do mathematicians make their disco-
veries? Poincare will tell us later his own observations on this
mystery in one of the most interesting narratives of personal
discovery that was ever written. The upshot seems to be that
mathematical discoveries more or less make themselves after
a long spell of hard labour on the part of the mathematician.
As in literature - according to Dante Gabriel Rossetti - *a
certain amount of fundamental brainwork1 is necessary before
a poem can mature, so m mathematics there is no discovery
without preliminary drudgery, but this is by no means the
whole story. All 'explanations' of creativeness that fail to
provide a recipe whereby a gifted human being can create are
open to suspicion. Pomcare's excursion into practical psycho-
logy, like some others in the same direction, failed to bring back
the Golden Fleece, but it did at least suggest that such a thing
is not wholly mythical and may some day be found when
human beings grow intelligent enough to understand their own
bodies.
Poincare's intellectual heredity on both sides was good. We
shall not go farther back than his paternal grandfather. During
the Napoleonic campaign of 1814 this grandfather, at the early
age of twenty, was attached to the military hospital at Saint*
Quentin. On settling in 1817 at Rouen he married and had two
sons: Leon Poincare, born in 1828, who became a first-rate
physician and a member of a medical faculty; and Antoine, who
rose to the inspector-generalship of the department of roads
and bridges. Leon's son Henri, born on 29 April 1854, at Nancy,
Lorraine, became the leading mathematician of the early
twentieth century; one of Antoine's two sons, Raymond, went
in for law and rose to the presidency of the French Republic
during World War I; Antoine's other son became director of
secondary education. A great-uncle who had followed Napoleon
into Russia disappeared and was never heard of after the
Moscow fiasco.
From this distinguished list it might be thought that Henri
would have exhibited some admioistrative ability, but he did
not, except in his early childhood when he freely invented
political games for Ms sister and young friends to play. In these
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